Troubled by security issues, the county’s Planning Commission has held the line on attendance at this year’s Reggae on the River festival.
The Mateel Community Center, the festival’s operator, asked for an attendance increase from 8,000 to 9,000 people when the commission considered the event’s annual permit review at an April 3 hearing.
But a majority of commissioners were swayed by comments from a nearby property owner who said trespassing festival-goers – and the security staffers who were tasked with controlling them -- harassed his family and his tenants.
The festival is set for the first weekend in August at the original Reggae on the River site at French’s Camp. In a staff report, Senior Planner Michael Richardson outlined permit changes proposed by the Mateel – three additional parking areas will be added for this summer’s event and a temporary signaled crosswalk will be set up to facilitate access to businesses on Highway 101.
Those proposals were readily accepted by commissioners but the attendance increase – which would consist of 500 staffers and 500 festivalgoers – was problematic.
During a public comment session, commissioners were told that last year’s festival had off-site security issues. Jesse Parsons owns property near the event site and he said he and his tenants were disturbed by trespassers because security was lacking and fencing was installed late.
“My property was pretty well over-run by people trying to get into the event,” he continued. “The security that we had was poor at best.”
Parsons added that the behavior of security staffers was a problem in itself and “their actions, whether it be alcohol or drugs, were pretty bad.”
A tenant who lives on Parson’s property said she was surprised that Reggae on the River’s security staff was rude and confrontational, since she worked at last year’s event. She told commissioners that the problems were troubling and “I didn’t feel like anybody had my back.”
Earlier, Keith Bowman, the owner of the Patriot gas station and other businesses near the festival site, said portable toilets adjoining his Grandfather Tree attraction were left uncleaned after last year’s event and flies proliferated.
Bowman also said security is “a huge issue” at County Line Ranch, which is adjacent to the festival site.
The comments troubled Commissioner Dave Edmunds. “My concern is about the private property issues that have been raised,” he said. “Security is certainly going to be an issue and so is disposal of waste.”
He said the request for increased attendance concerns him in the context of those issues.
“Any time you put a number of people together, you are going to have problems, it’s the nature of a large gathering,” said Katz Boose, the event’s operations manager. But she added that she’s been working on resolving the issues since last fall and “they have been mitigated with our crew.”
After Edmunds made a motion to allow the proposed permit changes except for the attendance increase, Commissioner Noah Levy said he’s talked with many Southern Humboldt residents who don’t want the event to get bigger.
In response, Mateel General Manager Justin Crellin said adding three more parking lots – including the Richardson Grove KOA campground -- will make a big difference this year.
Crellin added that allowing greater attendance will offset the expenses related to the additional lots. But the commission voted to hold the attendance at 8,000 people, with Commissioner Lee Ulansey and Commission Chairman Bob Morris dissenting.
Morris had said that last year’s event was “a learning experience” and the festival is a “big boost to a fairly depressed area.”
The festival’s costs will rise in other ways. As recommended by Commissioner Kevin McKenny, the approved motion also included a requirement to have waste disposal, sanitation, a temporary bridge and water quality measurements inspected by licensed professionals.